Monday, August 29, 2005

Philadelphia Inquirer article about SACDs

There was an article in this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer about SACDs. Some interesting points and statistics about recent production trends are brought up in the article:

* "SACD sales declined from 1.3 million discs in 2003 to 790,000 in 2004, according to the Recording Industry Association of America."

* "Three complete SACD Beethoven symphony sets are out; two more are in the making. Complete sets of Mozart and Shostakovich symphonies have also appeared."

* "San Francisco Symphony's SACD recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 was a turning point. "We thought it would sell 1,000 or 2,000. But it sold 5,000 in three months," says John Newton, an industry veteran who now remasters discs for RCA."

* There isn't logic as to what to sells best yet. The Anonymous 4's American Angels CD, a disc noted for its atmospheric sound of a small vocal ensemble, sold only 2% of its releases as SACD. Meanwhile, 30% of a recent Telarc release of Haydn's Seasons were SACD-format.

SACD stands for "Super Audio Compact Disc"--which is a compact disc that records at a higher sampling rate (96kHZ) and a higher word length (24kHZ). It's a proprietary format that has been masterminded by Sony and Philips, but the technology is starting to be licensed by record labels, especially classical labels whose content particularly appeals to audiophiles. The format supports 5 channels (or tracks) of listening, as opposed to the normal 2 for stereo. They weren't too successful in selling these a few years ago, because it was only supported by special surround-sound players. Now, it's much more common for a record label to issue a hybrid-SACD, which allows for playing on most commercial stereo systems.

But does SACD matter to a larger public anymore? Will record companies really re-master and re-release their entire catalogs as SACD? How long would that take? Maybe 20 years, like CDs (roughly a good percentage of the pre-digital run)--but what new technologies will be in place then? Isn't all this getting a little silly?

Another big constituency for buying classical discs are libraries, who usually don't have the facilities or equipment to incorporate surround-sound listening. Then there is the audio preservationist who in digitizing one of these discs would need to preserve 5 tracks of audio, instead of the normal 2. Imagine the size and the structural complexity of that item.

Furthermore, how would cataloging requirements change to allow for documentation of these system requirements. I'm sure Jay Weitz has already thought and posted about this, but it will be awhile before the majority of catalogers will be able to do this masterfully. I need to look more at the SACD specifications to know if we are really dealing with a music recording or a series of data files. Some of the cataloging fields that might come into play include: 538, 007, 006, 300, and just some 500 fields related to description of what this recording format is and requires.

How a hybrid Super Audio CD works.

It seems that high-quality (SACD and DVD-A) audio will be around in some form in the future, especially for select constituencies (classical and jazz); but for most other genres, the rule will be Internet distribution (streaming and MP3 downloads). This might not change even if size and bandwidth matters are resolved, because of the value that classical (and jazz) listeners place on the physical album and its constituent parts.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Tommy Lee in Marching Band?!?!?!


Ok, I admit it, in the brief time I have been out of school, I have been watching the VH1 Celebreality show Tommy Lee Goes to College. In the show, Tommy Lee (of Motley Crue) attends the University of Nebraska attends classes, participates in various extracurricular activities, and various downtime antics. I admit most of the show is banal, overedited, and misrepresents most of the college experience. That said, I think it is funny, well-scripted, and entertaining, if you just let yourself enjoy it.

One of the favorite parts I've seen is where Tommy joins the marching band. Tommy Lee plays the quad-toms (or the "quads"), a holster of four drums of various sizes that are worn by the drummer.

[GEEK NOTE: The drums that the drum line were playing were probably "quints," because there were 1-2 extra tiny drums inside the frame.]

Multi-toms are probably the hardest of all the battery percussion instruments to play. Why? Because you're not just striking one drum with your drumsticks, you have to hit four drums on beat, and in tempo. There is no rubato, there is no interpretation, and you have to do it exactly at the same time as the rest of your squadron.

I'm glad VH1 included this subplot. It's really important for people to understand, especially young people, that music is made through sweat, practice, and training. While I acknowledge there is innate musical talent in some people, it is the manner in which it is harnessed that matters most to me. Although my experience in marching band was grueling, often-overly repetitive, and often-uninspired, I'm glad I did it in high school and college. I'd like to think that any sort of group activity like this ultimately makes one a better contributor. Why? By working out your own talents in a group context, you can actually see how your efforts make a large-scale difference. You know where you screw up, and so can everybody else. But it's not all about you, it's about the team.

In this week's episode, Tommy has to pass an audition to march with the rest of the band on Saturday during the football game. He has to know all of the music, and be able to play it. Drummers have to memorize their music, and play it in tempo while executing complicated drill patterns on (often very muddy) football fields. Well, Tommy, to his credit, stepped up to the challenge and practiced. He practiced the cadences, the half-time show, and all the other licks that get played during the game. He performed "up-to-snuff" at Friday's band rehearsal and marched during the game. I'm glad he got to experience the exhiliration that goes into preparing and pulling off a half-time show performance, particularly in a competitive band. My college band was disciplined, but a lot more laid-back than my high school band (which competed). I have to admit that I was one of those band kids that got carried away sometimes because of all the competition. It was one of the most important things in my life back then. And I think it taught me an important lesson, that passion and practice often make you better--whether it's as a musician, a teacher, a manager, a coach, or a librarian.

Anyways, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has their own web page about the experience, check it out. Hopefully this will help the campaign for music education nationwide. I'll be back to link some more to this post later.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Onto blue highways

As I will be traveling today, I invite you to take a look at this road less traveled:

The Trans-Labrador Highway (Quebec, Labrador)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

New recording of original Sondheim demos

Because this blog deals with sound recordings, I'm going to be doing some selective reviews when I encounter albums that *pop* out at me. Besides, I'm in this business for the music and the chance to listen to recordings, not just catalog and preserve them. While I was perusing a local book and music superchain store today, I listened to a good bit of this record:

Sondheim, Stephen. Sondheim Sings Vol. 1, 1962-72. Stephen Sondheim, piano and vocals. P.S. Classics PS9529, p2005. Compact disc.

Love Is In The Air
Pretty Little Picture
Truly Content
Multitudes Of Amys
Miracle Song
The Lame, The Halt And The Blind
The Glamorous Life
Everybody Ought To Have A Maid
Don't Look At Me
Pleasant Little Kingdom
Everybody Says Don't
Losing My Mind
Broadway Baby
Anyone Can Whistle
A Hero Is Coming
No, Mary Ann
Marry Me A Little
Send In The Clowns

Sondheim Sings is a compilation of previously unreleased demos of Stephen Sondheim singing and playing songs from his many shows, some popular and some obscure. Although Sondheim's voice is not the main artistic attraction here, this album is a living testament to what this composer does for his livelihood. On many tracks he half-sings, half-directs the characters and their actions. This is most effective in his performance of "The Glamorous Life" from A Little Night Music. There are also some songs that never made it onto a cast album before (to my knowledge), including "A Multitude of Amys" from Company. I also found his rendition of "Love is in the Air" quite charming, and am very sorry I've never heard the Invocation (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) before.

No, his voice may not be great, but he can sing well enough to convey what his songs are supposed to sound like. It's always a pleasure when this sort of raw audio hits the commercial market, because you get to see the process a lot clearer. Or should I say, "art isn't easy." If you enjoy unrehearsed, unproduced archival recordings [i.e. the real thing], you'll find this album a real treat.

Why preservation is important

During my downtime, I'm reading two books which I think tie in very well to the world of librarianship and information science. The first one, which I'll talk about tomorrow, is by Jeff Hawkins (with Sandra Blakeslee), and is titled On Intelligence (New York: Owl Books, c2004).

The second one, which I've just started to thumb through, is Nicholas A. Brisbanes' A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).

In the preface (xiii-xviii), Brisbanes uses some striking examples and references to the power of the written word, from the film Annie Hall to the runes of Pompeii to a granite slab unearthed in the discovery of the sunken Egyptian city of Herakoleion (Thonis) and Caonpus, to a message in a bottle which had traveled from the Azores to Cape Cod over the period of 31 years.

Brisbanes notes that in human achivement there is an "innate desire we all have to pass on a record of what we have accomplished to the next posterity." I've always thought of writing, performing, composing, or creating (in a more general sense) as a giving of oneself away. This sharing might be ephemeral, but in a more universal sense it is the giving and receiving of creative endeavors is what makes us human. Or as Glinda (from the current hit musical Wicked) sings: "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

He further states that of all the forms of cultural heritage (jewelry, pottery, art) which were found in the salvage of the city of Thonis, that the discovery of a granite slab inscribed with text relating to Greek-Egyptian trade practices is the most illuminating of all. French maritime archaeologist Franck Goddio felt that this exploratory group "had made direct contact with the ancient world." This has been my experience as well, even with recordings of the last century. I remember listening in my American Music class in college listening to Folkways recordings of Native American, Sacred Harp, and other styles of music that I would have never encountered, save for that listening assignment. While I was only generations removed, because I was listening to these old songs and ancient voices, I bore witness to them.

The message-in-a-bottle tale somehow struck me the most though, as it did Brisbanes. He found great contemporary relevancy in this "fragile carrier of information making its way across a vast ocean." How like the current state of our electronic online documents, which sit on servers doomed to obsolescence and neglect. The written word has survived for thousands of years because of its carrier--paper. If only the spoken word and the musical documents of the late 19th-early 21st centuries would fare as long! If Egyptian tariff documents can bear witness to a lost culture, how can we as preservationists, archivists, and librarians ensure that a sample of our audio heritage will speak to those who unearth our remains. That is the challenge and the crux of our work.

Friday, August 19, 2005

New name for blog

You've probably noticed that I've changed the name of my blog to reflect my graduated status! (M.L.S., August 2005). It's now got the name: "Audio Librarian : From Analog to Digital and Back." You can tell I've been in academia for awhile, because of the subtitle. I have a few weeks to go before I start my new job, so I will probably tinker around with this forum, so expect some changes.

The URL will not change for the forseeable future, until I can find a way to move everything and let people know.

FYI: I still have content from my film and video preservation class available at my recently defunct Preserving Video blog.

Thanks to Pete (Sampo) for his mention of this blog recently. It's given me inspiration to keep it running.

For all you Slizzards (God, I hate that term) out there, be sure to check out IU's Digital Library Brownbag Series. I learned a lot at them last year.

Another Audio Preservation Blog

I'm happy to see another audio preservation blog out there--and by a professional no less! Run by Gilad Radner, Systems Integrator of Media Matters, LLC in New York, here's...

DAVA : Digital Audiovisual Archiving

A blog focused on the digital transformation and preservation of audiovisual material.
If you're on the ARSC or AMIA lists you probably know about this already, if not...sign up now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Got a job!

Just a note that all my interning has paid off. I was offered a temporary position at the Library of Congress in the Recorded Sound Section of MBRS (which stands for Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound). I'll be working in the preservation lab working with digital audio files. I'll have the very sexy title of "Processing Technician." Oh well, it's a job--and one that could lead to a permanent one here next year.

YAY! A government job!

All the best,